Start Up No.1513: Intel outlines future plans, Zuckerberg asks for Section 230 tweaks, why the Suez ship is a worst-case scenario, and more


Straw hats look innocuous enough – yet in the 1920s, triggered a riot. CC-licensed photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. You’ve got random direct messages! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Intel’s revival plan is a bet that chip demand will keep booming after Covid-19 • WSJ

Robert Wall:

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Behind Intel Corp.’s INTC -2.27% multibillion-dollar revival plan is a growing view among tech executives that booming demand for computer chips will continue beyond the pandemic.

Intel on Tuesday committed to a record $19bn to $20bn in capital expenditures this year, or about 45% above the company’s average annual capital expenditures over the past five years.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s leading contract chip maker, in January pledged to spend up to $28bn on plant investments this year, a record for that company and a 47% annual increase.

“Everything is becoming more digital and we are saying Intel is stepping into that gap aggressively to help provide the capacity that’s needed,” Intel Chief Executive Pat Gelsinger said Tuesday as he rolled out his turnaround plan for the company. The embrace of more digital tools fueling that demand, he said, was only accelerated by the pandemic.

Microsoft Corp. CEO Satya Nadella, joining his Intel counterpart by video at the chipmaker’s strategy rollout, said that “we’re entering a complete new era as computing becomes embedded in our world.”

Mr. Nadella expects spending on technology, currently at about 5% of gross domestic product, will accelerate. “It’s going to double in the next 10 years to 10%,” he said last month.

Even before Intel’s latest investment plan the semiconductor industry was on pace for record capital spending, market research firm IC Insights said. The industry globally was expected to plow a record $129.4bn into things such as new plants and equipment, up around 14% from a year ago.

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Intel’s advantage is that it’s the only American maker of CPUs out there, and geopolitically it’s important that TSMC isn’t the only big supplier. (I wonder constantly what Apple’s strategic plan is for the Chinese government invading Taiwan.)

The seriousness of Intel’s aim here makes its Justin Long adverts trying to poke fun at Apple’s CPU work seem even more strange, though. As though they didn’t know what Gelsinger was working on.

Ben Thompson was hugely impressed by Gelsinger’s presentation and intent. (Personally, I felt he lacked gravitas: he sounded like a motel manager hoping I’d have a good weekend stay. Steve Jobs really could do that we’re-in-deep-crap stuff much better.)
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Slack to fix error in new direct messaging feature over harassment concerns • Yahoo Finance

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Workplace messaging app Slack Technologies Inc said it was working to fix an error in the direct-messaging feature it introduced earlier on Wednesday, which could have lead to online harassment.

The feature enabled users to send direct messages to anyone inside or outside their company through Slack Connect. Users could send an invite to any partner and start messaging as soon as it is accepted, the company said in a blog post.

After rolling out the feature, Slack received feedback from users about how email invitations to use the feature could potentially be used to send abusive or harassing messages, Jonathan Prince, vice president of communications and policy at Slack, said in a statement.

“We made a mistake in this initial roll-out,” Prince added.

The company, which is being acquired by Salesforce.com Inc, said it would be removing the ability to customize a message when a user invites someone to Slack Connect direct messages to address the issue.

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Amazing that this got through any sort of QA. People being allowed to message you randomly is annoying in LinkedIn, but on Slack?
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Zuckerberg calls for changes to tech’s Section 230 protections

Dylan Byers:

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will propose this week that Congress make revisions to federal internet regulations that would require platforms to have systems in place for identifying and removing unlawful content.

The proposal, which Zuckerberg will present during his testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, would raise the bar for social media companies that are currently granted immunity from liability for the content that appears on their platforms. That immunity, granted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, has come under fire in recent years from Republicans and Democrats.

While meant to ensure that companies are taking action against unlawful content, the changes could theoretically shore up Facebook’s power, as well as that of other internet giants like Google, by requiring smaller social media companies and startups to develop robust content moderation systems that can be costly.

“Instead of being granted immunity, platforms should be required to demonstrate that they have systems in place for identifying unlawful content and removing it,” Zuckerberg will say in his opening remarks, according to written testimony released on the House Committee website Wednesday.

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Another key quote: “Definitions of an adequate system could be proportionate to platform size and set by a third-party.” Basically, make government responsible for telling Facebook (and others) what its moderation policy should be.
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Suez Canal container ship accident is a worst-case scenario for global trade

Rory Hopcraft, Kevin Jones and Kimberly Tan at the University of Plymouth:

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As researchers of maritime security, we often simulate incidents like the Ever Given grounding to understand the probable long and short-term consequences. In fact, the recent event is near identical to something we have been discussing for the last month, as it represents an almost worst-case scenario for the Suez Canal and for knock-on effects on global trade.

The Suez Canal is the gateway for the movement of goods between Europe and Asia, and it was responsible for the transit of over 19,000 ships in 2019, equating to nearly 1.25 billion tonnes of cargo. This is thought to represent around 13% of world trade so any blockage is likely to have a significant impact.

The Suez Canal Authority started expanding the strait in 2014 to raise its daily capacity from 49 vessels at present to 97 by 2023. This gives an indication of how many ships are likely to be affected by the current situation. There are reports that the incident has already halted the passage of ten crude tankers carrying 13 million barrels of oil, and that any ships rerouted will have 15 days added to their voyage.

The severity of the incident is because of the dimensions of the vessels using the canal. The Ever Given is 400 metres long, 59 metres at its widest point and 16 metres deep below the waterline. This makes it one of the largest container ships in the world, capable of carrying over 18,000 containers. Depending on the severity of the grounding, the salvage and re-floating of this type of ship is a complex operation, requiring specialist equipment and potentially a lot of time.

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It’s OK, they’ve got a JCB.
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EVER GIVEN Current position (Container Ship, IMO 9811000) • VesselFinder

Just in case you wanted to know how The Ship That Blocked The Suez Canal is doing just now. After this it’s probably going to want to change its name and move to a different town. Or at least the captain will. There’s a good visual rundown at The Guardian.

Quite how this happened (“strong winds” are blamed) is going to make one hell of a Cautionary Tale for Tim Harford’s.. next? podcast series.
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A somewhat sane take on NFTs and crypto-art, from a practicing artist, who thinks, on balance (ultimately) that it’s a good idea • Dan Catt

Dan Catt used to be a colleague at The Guardian, who worked on the coding side. He saw the possibilities of bitcoin quite early, and made some money from Flickr:

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I’ve now laid out my frame of reference; digital art is real, artists are exploited, institutions are capitalist (we’ll cover this below) and bad. This phrase, which I’ve seen on Twitter, may help…

“NFTs are a solution looking for a problem”.

The problem is, how can we pay artists for digital work in a more direct fashion while exploiting them less than they currently are?

The solution is we use an NFT on a decentralised system as a token of “ownership” of an artwork that you give money to the original artist for. The artist then takes that money and buys food.

Again, all the NFT is, is a token that says “this person, owns that art”, it is not the art. It is bits inside a computer, which different people put a value on.

If you value the NFT as stupid, pointless, worthless bullshit, which you are obviously totally free to do, then that’s what it’s worth to you.

If the artist says, “to me, this NFT is worth $100”, and someone who likes the artwork goes “Okay, it’s worth $100 to me to make a transaction with the artist to transfer ownership of this token from them to me” then you can make a deal.

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It’s a long read. And he does acknowledge that the enviromental problems are, well, problems.
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NFTs are a dangerous trap • Seth’s Blog

Seth Godin:

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THE REST OF US are going to pay for NFTs for a very long time. They use an astonishing amount of electricity to create and trade. Together, they are already using more than is consumed by some states in the US. Imagine building a giant new power plant just to make Christie’s or the Basel Art Fair function. And the amount of power wasted will go up commensurate with their popularity and value. And keep going up. The details are here. The short version is that for the foreseeable future, the method that’s used to verify the blockchain and to create new digital coins is deliberately energy-intensive and inefficient. That’s on purpose. And as they get more valuable, the energy used will go up, not down.

It’s an ongoing waste that creates little in ongoing value and gets less efficient and more expensive as time goes on. For most technological innovations the opposite is true.

The trap, then, is that creators can get hooked on creating these. Buyers with a sunk cost get hooked on making the prices go up, unable to walk away. And so creators and buyers are then hooked in a cycle, with all of us up paying the lifetime of costs associated with an unregulated system that consumes vast amounts of precious energy for no other purpose than to create some scarce digital tokens.

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Estonia’s free county public transport did not fulfill goals • Eltis

Claus Köllinger:

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The National Audit Office of Estonia have been investigating the free public transport introduced in Tallinn, including the free bus and tram travel for local registered people. Analysis included studying whether economic feasibility as well as the mobility needs of people had been taken into account when deciding to cut payment by users.

Results on the county model were that free public transport has not reached its goal to reduce car journeys. Whilst public transport use numbers have increased, still more than half of all trips to work are done by car.

“What is positive is that the decline in the share of public transport users has stopped for a couple of years,” stated Auditor General Janar Holm. “Unfortunately, not a significant number of new users have been attracted to public transport despite the fact that over the recent years, the state has allocated more and more funds to cover the costs of county bus transport and has allowed people to travel by bus free of charge in most counties.”

Furthermore, the National Audit Office found that funding for public transport services is unequal between Estonian counties and that state expenditures in funding public transport has risen rapidly. “In a relatively short period of time, the costs of county public transport can be expected to triple,” Auditor General Janar Holm said.

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You would probably expect that cutting fares to zero would mean everyone would prefer that over paying for fuel for their car. Wrong, evidently. But why, exactly? There’s a terrific Twitter thread analysing this finding, and its implications for London and American cities, by John Bull (a technology and transport journalist), which you can read as a single page.
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Straw Hat Riot • Wikipedia

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By the early 20th century, straw boaters were considered acceptable day attire in North American cities at the height of summer even for businessmen, but there was an unwritten rule that one was not supposed to wear a straw hat past September 15 (which was known as “Felt Hat Day”).

This date was arbitrary; earlier it had been September 1, but it eventually shifted to mid-month. It was socially acceptable for stockbrokers to destroy each other’s hats, due to the fact that they were “companions”, but it was not acceptable for total strangers. If any man was seen wearing a straw hat, he was, at minimum, subjecting himself to ridicule, and it was a tradition for youths to knock straw hats off of wearers’ heads and stomp on them.

This tradition became well established, and newspapers of the day would often warn people of the impending approach of the fifteenth, when men would have to switch to felt or silk hats. Hat bashing was only socially acceptable after September 15, but there were multiple occasions leading up to this date where the police had to intervene and stop teenagers.

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This article (via Benedict Evans) feels like reading about another planet, or one of those parallel-world things from Star Trek. “It was a tradition for youths to knock straw hats off of wearers’ heads and stomp on them.” I have SO many questions, particularly about how many repetitions over how many years it would take for such a “tradition” to become embedded.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1513: Intel outlines future plans, Zuckerberg asks for Section 230 tweaks, why the Suez ship is a worst-case scenario, and more

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